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Southern California Gardening: Xeriscaping to the Rescue

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

When you step up to the xeriscape challenge, you discover that your garden can be more interesting and attractive than ever — while saving precious water.

agave attenuata and geraniums

By Evelyn Alemanni

As we change our focus from lush greenery to waterwise gardens, we often hear the term “xeriscaping.” It is pronounced “zeer-i-skey-ping,” not ZERO-scaping, as it has nothing to do with zero inputs to the garden. Xeriscaping comes from the Greek word meaning “related or adapted to a dry environment.”

Xeriscaping is about adapting your landscape to reduce water use. That can mean changing from overhead irrigation to drip emitters to reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation. It can also mean changing your plant palette to one that requires little water. Removing turf is a big part of xeriscaping, as turf can require much more water than drought-tolerant landscapes.

agaves and aeoniums

Good to Know: If you must have turf, look for warm-season grasses that need 20 percent less water than cool-season grasses. Among these are St. Augustine and Zoysia De Anza.  

Even Better to Know: Check with your local water district to see whether it’ll pay you to replace your thirsty lawn with xeriscaping. Some districts offer up to $3 or more per square foot. Although this most likely does not cover all your expenses, the result can be a much more interesting landscape. Over the long term, a xeriscape might be less expensive to maintain due to decreased water, fertilizer, and maintenance needs.

Organic mulch>

Mulch plays an important role in a xeriscaped garden because it helps the soil retain moisture. Popular mulches include organics such as wood chips and compost. Organic mulches eventually break down to help improve your soil. The downside is you need to replenish it each year.

Good to Know: Remember to put mulch on top of drip emitters or soaker hoses. If you use an overhead watering system, water may not make it through the mulch to moisten the soil.

Rocks as accents>

On the other hand, inorganic mulches are permanent. Inorganic choices include gravel and rocks of all sizes, ranging from pea gravel to boulders. They come in interesting, naturally occurring colors and a variety of textures. They are great for creating accent areas with no plants. However, they can be expensive to purchase and install.

dry creek bed>

To simulate dry creek beds you can use rocks, gravel, and even boulders. Be careful using inorganic mulches because white gravel reflects heat onto plants, and dark gravel can heat the soil, so your plants can end up needing more water.

Phormium and ice plant>

Great plants for a xeriscape include most succulents, agaves, New Zealand flax (Phormium spp.), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), and many ornamental grasses such as pennisetum and Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima). Even geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) tolerate drought, and their flowers offer welcome color.

With xeriscaping your garden can be more attractive than ever — yet you’ll be doing your part to preserve a precious resource.

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